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Braves Flashback/Recap: May 2

Was this the most epic Braves game of the 2010s?

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

A small admission: one of my ulterior motives in doing this whole game-by-date exercise was to get to this game. Do you know it? If not, and you’ve been following this team since before the 2013 season, shame on you. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Well, here are some hints: (1) Roy Halladay; (2) Chipper Jones walkoff. Still not ringing a bell? I guess you’re ethically obligated to watch the videos below, then. (The text is optional.)

The gist: In one of the most epic games of the 2010s (if not ever, but I can’t judge games before 2001 as I didn’t see them), the Braves launched multiple massive comebacks and eventually erupted in massive celebrations after Chipper Jones walked them off with a homer in the 11th.

The set-up: The Braves’ 2011 season ended in awful fashion. Their soul-rending collapse down the stretch culminated in a 4-3, 13-inning loss to the 102-win Phillies on the season’s final day. The dominant Craig Kimbrel walked three and blew a one-run save opportunity in that game, and the Braves allowed the go-ahead run right after getting the winning run to third but failing to cash it in. The hangover lasted for four games into 2012, as the Braves dropped each of those games, and then they went on a crazy tear, winning 10 of 11. By the time the Phillies came into town to kick off May, the Braves were 14-9 and just a half-game out of first place. The Phillies, meanwhile, finished under .500 in April. Still, the demons from 2011 didn’t appear to be fully exorcised, as the Phillies beat up Jonny Venters in the eighth to take the first game of the series. The pitching matchup for this game was intriguing, but not promising. The Braves would be starting Tommy Hanson, coming off an injury-addled 2011 but having just completed a very strong April; the Phillies, however, were throwing Roy freakin’ Halladay into the mix. Halladay had finished his 2011 with an insane 8.7 fWAR (and somehow didn’t win the Cy Young, even though he won it in 2010 with 6.2 fWAR), and was just being just as stingy so far in 2012 as usual, albeit with much worse peripherals than ever before.

How it happened: This game was definitely a descent into madness, which means it started from a relatively calm plateau. Hanson’s first inning featured just a one-out single. The Braves hit three one-out grounders in the same place off Halladay — the first two squeaked through, and the third became a double play off the bat of Brian McCann. Hanson seemed like he was going to be in hot water in the second, with a walk and a single to start the frame, but an easy double-play ball off the bat of Carlos Ruiz and a wild swing on a high fastball by Freddy Galvis got him out with no harm done. Halladay countered with a 1-2-3 frame, and then the floodgates burst.

With one out in the third, the Phils got runners on the corners courtesy of consecutive bouncers that made it past the infield. Shane Victorino then made better contact, shooting one past Freddie Freeman to bring in the first run of the game. After Victorino stole second, Hanson lost Pence on a full count, loading the bases. That set up Laynce Nix, who delivered a big blow, doubling to right over the head and glove of Eric Hinske. Hinske couldn’t really play the outfield at this point, and was only in there given a minor Jason Heyward injury, and his presence was costly for Hanson and the Braves in this instance. Hanson then hit Ruiz with an 0-2 pitch, but was finally able to stop the bleeding when Galvis skied out to right.

So, a four-run deficit with Halladay on the mound? Doc didn’t make the feat look any easier in the bottom of the third, throwing an 11-pitch inning that featured two strikeouts and then a first-pitch groundout. Hanson was yanked in the fourth after back-to-back two-out singles, each of which avoided an infielder coming up with it by inches. He had, to that point, retired just 10 of the 21 batters he faced, needing 95 pitches to do so. It was his worst start of 2012 to date, though not a particularly awful outing, as Hanson was prone to the occasional blow-up, like most pitchers. A 3/2 K/BB ratio across 21 batters wasn’t great, but the .533 BABIP and Hinske in right field hurt him more than anything he did. Cristhian Martinez, the medium-leverage-ish long man in the bullpen, came on and stranded the runners by getting a grounder from Hunter Pence that actually happened to find an infielder. Meanwhile, Halladay breezed through another inning, allowing just a two-out slow roller single to McCann.

The road would get tougher before it got easier in the fifth. With one out and a man on first, both Ruiz and Galvis cranked deep doubles to drive in two additional runs. Martinez recovered to get two groundouts, but the deficit had increased by 50 percent. Things were not looking good. Historically, a team down 6-0 headed into the bottom of the fifth has come back to win less than four percent. But, you know how this goes — we’re covering this game because even with Halladay pitching, the Braves decided to do their best Han Solo impression.

Chipper Jones led off the frame with a seemingly-harmless dunker to center. Then, Hinske followed suit with the same into left. Tyler Pastornicky got in on the fun, with a harder-hit liner up the middle. The bases were loaded, and Juan Francisco stepped to the plate to pinch hit for Martinez... but he popped out. Next up was Michael Bourn, and he gave the Phillies a taste of their own medicine with a grounder single through the right side, scoring Chipper. Prado then followed suit with a weak chopper between the mound and third base that he beat out, scoring Hinske. The Braves were in business, but the rally looked potentially doomed as Halladay forced Freeman into another pop-out. It was up to McCann to keep the rally going... but instead, he just straight-up killed it: (Why no embeds for 2012, MLB? Why?)

Talk about a cool grand slam. Hunter Pence didn’t really even give chase, it came off Roy Halladay, the crowd went nuts. The broadcast kept showing replays for so long that even when Halladay struck out Uggla looking in a six-pitch PA, it was still mostly replay rather than the live game. Just like that, with four innings left in regulation, the game was tied.

So of course, the Braves sent in... Livan Hernandez? To be fair, while Hernandez was much maligned at the time as unnecessary (he was a mediocre starter as recently as 2011 but was being used in mop-up duty on a team that had plenty of other mop-up options), he hadn’t actually been that bad up to this point. And to his credit, despite the weirdness of him being asked to hold a tie, he threw a seven-pitch inning against the heart of the Philadelphia order, getting weak contact each time. Freeman and Pastornicky helped with a couple of nice plays behind him, with Freeman leaning over the dugout railing to snag a foul pop.

With Halladay still out there for the bottom of the sixth, it was time to push forward. Hinske yanked a liner into right with one out. Pastornicky then worked a nine-pitch PA. He somehow made contact with a pitch that nearly landed in the other batter’s box and chipped a ridiculous bloop double into the shallowest of right fields. The Braves then pinch-hit for Hernandez with the previously-scratched Heyward, and he came through, yanking Halladay’s pitch over Ty Wigginton at first base for a two-run single. Halladay’s night was done, in very ignominious fashion: he had allowed eight runs after being staked to a 6-0 lead. The peripherals were fine (5/0 K/BB ratio), but the grand slam was obviously a huge blow, and just like for Hanson, the .524 BABIP was a killer. Amusingly, by xFIP, it was Halladay’s third-best start of 2012; by ERA and Game Score (v2), it was the third-worst. Halladay hadn’t given up eight runs in a start since 2009. By WPA, Halladay’s start was worth -.575 — the worst mark of his career. Joe Savery came on and was the beneficiary of a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out double play, but that didn’t feel particularly salient at the time. The Braves now had a two-run lead after scoring eight unanswered runs. Could they hold it?

No, they could not. These were still the O’Ventbrel years, but much like how both Hanson and Halladay imploded, O’Ventbrel would too. Eric O’Flaherty started the inning with the most inauspicious of results: a four-pitch walk to Wigginton. Pinch-hitter John Mayberry, hitting in place of Nix, blooped a single to right. (Dat BABIP in this game, man.) And then, Ruiz, turning to bitter ashes all the hard work by the opposing catcher: In the span of three batters and zero outs, the Braves had traded away their two-run lead for a one-run deficit. O’Flaherty “recovered” to retire the next three hitters in order, but the wind billowing the Atlanta sails had hushed in a hurry.

The combination of new reliever Antonio Bastardo and Mayberry in left proceeded to suppress any Atlanta attempt to come right back. First, Mayberry made a diving play to rob Prado of a hit. Then, Freeman nearly crushed a game-tying homer into the left-field corner, but the ball died a step shy of the wall, and Mayberry turned it into an out with a collapsing stab that turned into a tumble. McCann then flew out to right.

If the wind had gone out of the sails in the seventh, a broadside punctured the hull of the U.S.S. Braves in the eighth. Kris Medlen, still working in a relief capacity after his return from Tommy John Surgery relieved O’Flaherty, but didn’t fare any better, in pretty dumb fashion. Medlen was one strike away from finishing the inning when Pence hit a tapper back up the middle. Pastornicky couldn’t get a handle on the ball, allowing an infield single. A few pitches later, Pastornicky would flub again, smothering a roller from Wigginton but making a slow, ineffectual flip to second that resulted in another infield single. Medlen walked Mayberry on four pitches, which brought up Ruiz, who stomped the Braves’ win expectancy yet again: This was now seven, count ‘em, seven runs driven in for Ruiz on the night, and the Phillies had 12 on the scoreboard. The Braves’ win expectancy was down to around three percent, again.

But hey, I promised you epic, right? (And again, you really should just remember this game.) Three percent, shmee percent. With a four-run cushion and six outs to get, the Phillies went to Jose Contreras, the longtime Pale Hose starter who’d been a decent reliever for them in 2010 before being injured for most of 2011. This was not a good night to be a pitcher, though. Dan Uggla started the inning by looping one into shallow right. The Braves had given the Phillies some extra runs with Pastornicky’s misplays in the top of the inning, so Jimmy Rollins repaid the favor by bobbling and kicking around what could have been a double play ball off Chipper’s bat. After pinch-hitter Matt Diaz struck out, Pastornicky made up for his earlier gaffes by lining another ball into center, trimming the deficit to three runs. Heyward walked, and that was it for Contreras. The Phillies lifted him in favor of Michael Schwimer, a different right-hander despite the three of the next four batters due up being lefties. Schwimer ended up being even worse than Contreras. First, he walked Bourn on four pitches, driving in a run. Prado then bounced one back up the box, with the ball trickling past both Schwimer and Rollins, tying the game. The Braves had once again transformed a seemingly-insurmountable deficit into a new ballgame. But they’d do more. Freeman pulled off one of his patented “flick the ball to left” swings, and though Mayberry snagged it out of the air, he had no chance to prevent Bourn from tagging up and scoring. A 12-8 deficit was now a 13-12 lead. A broken-bat fly out from McCann ended the inning, and it was Kimbrel time.

This was the first time for Kimbrel against the Phillies since his last-game-of-the-season meltdown that ultimately cost the Braves a playoff spot. In that game, he was done in by walks and a sacrifice fly. In this game, well... he walked leadoff pinch-hitter Juan Pierre on four pitches. (Seriously, that was an epidemic in this game. Relievers!) Pierre easily stole second, but it looked like Kimbrel might get out of it anyway, as he got a pretty dubious strike three call on a full count for the first out, and then a routine groundout that moved Pierre to third for out number two. To this point in 2012, Kimbrel hadn’t yet faltered in a save situation, but that all changed two pitches later:

Despite Jack Wilson (in defensively for Pastornicky) ranging, grabbing, spinning, and throwing, and despite Freeman doing the splits, Victorino beat the throw and was safe at first, with Pierre scoring to tie the game. Would this slugfest turn out like September 28, 2011, after all? Kimbrel struck out Pence. If the Braves were going to win this one, they’d need to do it via walkoff.

At this point, the Braves definitely benefited from another potentially odd tactical decision from opposing skipper Charlie Manuel. With other remaining relievers Chad Qualls and Jonathan Papelbon having pitched in each of the last two games, the Phillies went with Brian Sanches, a generally below-replacement long man that had only been called up the prior day. It’s not entirely clear what the plan was for Manuel, but something like do-or-die with Sanches until either Papelbon or Qualls could close it out seemed likely. At first, it looked like “die time” was going to come quickly. Chipper and Wilson both singled with one out, and after pinch-hitter David Ross went down on strikes, Heyward drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Another baserunner would have ended the game, but Bourn popped out to Victorino in shallow center.

With the Braves already having used their long men and most of their high-leverage relievers, it was up to Venters to give them another chance to win it, back in the saddle after getting beaten by the Phillies the prior night. Venters would not falter twice in a row. Two strikeouts and a bouncer in front of the plate, and the Braves came back right back to the plate. But, Sanches countered with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. McCann nearly walked the Braves off with two outs, but his drive was caught a couple of steps shy of the wall, and the Braves turned the game over to Chad Durbin. The journeyman righthander was legitimately terrible, and like Hernandez, a source of continued consternation for Braves fans whenever he was used. But, who else could the Braves have even thrown? There wasn’t anyone else in the bullpen. It was all a matter of whether Durbin or Sanches would blink first. It wasn’t Durbin. He fielded a bunt try, struck out Sanches, and then speared a comebacker for an easy eight-pitch inning.

Commence Sanches blinking. Uggla started the bottom of the 11th with a single past a diving Placido Polanco at third base. Chipper then worked a 2-2 count. Sanches badly hung a slider over the plate, and Chipper put a charge into it down the right-field line, when it curled juuuust foul. Chipper paced around and grimaced before getting back into the box — he looked like someone expecting a giant tax refund who just got a letter informing him that he was going to be audited instead. When he finally resumed the PA, he took a pitch high to make it a full count, and then ended the game in glamorous fashion:

Game MVP: Chipper won the game, but really, this was Carlos Ruiz all day. Aside from this game, Ruiz never even drove in six runs in his career, much less seven. It was his highest WPA game (.047) of the 2012 season. A career 100 wRC+ hitter, Ruiz put up a 117 career mark against the Braves in 396 PAs. 2012 was his high-water mark, as he put up an insane 152 wRC+ and finished with 4.7 fWAR despite just 421 PAs.

Game LVP: Michael Schwimer, who turned a three-run lead into a one-run deficit by doing stuff like walking the first guy he faced on four pitches to drive in a run. This was easily the worst outing, WPA-wise of his short career — he was up and down with the Phillies in 2012 but never made the majors afterwards.

Biggest play: This insane game featured a total of 16 plays that swung win expectancy by 10 percent or more, including six that swung it by 20 percent or more, and four that swung it by 30 percent or more. (Ruiz was involved in three of them, two positive for his team and one, the second-inning double play, negative.) The biggest, however, was Prado’s single off Schwimer in the eighth that tied the game at 12-12.

Give the people what they want: Two requests were made of me when I asked for feedback. One, more Phillies losses. Two, more walkoffs. You’re welcome.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves would actually lose the game after this one, dropping the series. They’d make up for it by sweeping the series in the next two series between the two teams, and going 12-6 overall. The Braves finished with 94 wins and a Wild Card berth as they could never catch the Nationals; the Phillies finished with a .500 season after winning 102 games the season prior. Immediately after this game, the Braves improved to 15-10, staying half a game behind Washington; the Phillies fell under .500, a mark that they basically wouldn’t exceed all season.

This game was generally the beginning of the baseball end for Tommy Hanson. While he’d have some more good starts in 2012, he couldn’t really replicate the stretch he had in April, and finished the season with just 0.2 fWAR. He was dealt to the Angels in the offseason and tragically passed away in 2015.

It was also closer to the beginning of the baseball end for Roy Halladay. After this outing, Halladay made five more starts at a diminished level of effectiveness (though like in this game, the peripherals were much better than the outcomes), and then hit the shelf with a shoulder strain. He would return in mid-July for 14 more starts of the same, finishing the season with 2.5 fWAR, a 114 ERA-, 93 FIP-, and 92 xFIP-. The first three marks were his worst since 2000, and 92 was the worst xFIP- of his career to date. In September, the Braves would deliver unto him one of the worst starts of his career, torching him for seven runs in 1 23 innings, wherein Halladay faced 12 hitters and retired just four of them. Halladay would attempt a bounceback in 2013 and make 13 starts, but his shoulder was basically shot and completely dismantled his chances for effectiveness. He retired afterwards, after a catastrophic end (-0.7 fWAR, 182/160/136 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- in 62 innings) to one of the best pitching careers we’ve seen in recent history. Halladay, too, would suffer a tragic demise in an aircraft accident in 2017.


Recap (but watch the condensed game, seriously):

Condensed game:

TC Game Thread:

TC Recap:

More TC fun on this game:

TC Commentariat zeitgeist: This was the best game ever; Chipper is an eternal badass.

Anything else? Look, I’m just gonna stop here. Just leave a comment acknowledging the epicness of this game or something.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 2: The main Nazi garrison in Berlin surrendered on this date in 1945 (though fighting continued for a few days afterwards in pockets of the city). That in and of itself is far from directly cool, but I’m thankful that this was the last military operation for my great-grandfather, who was fortunate to survive where so many others did not.

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